SYNOPSIS: One day in 1940, two budding stars met for the first time in the RKO Pictures commissary, unaware that together they would change the face of pop culture. After surviving a tumultuous upbringing, a teenage Lucille Ball left her family for New York City, where she first found success as a model before moving to Hollywood to begin working in movies. Hailing from Santiago de Cuba, Desi Arnaz was a paid musician by 16 and quickly broke out as a multitalented entertainer. The two would go on to consistently challenge the status quo in entertainment both in front of and behind the camera. [Source: Sundance Institute]
Amy Poehler’s composition, “Lucy and Desi,” is a somewhat autobiographical in nature presentation of the legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Much of the footage is newly discovered home footage and clippings from the family archive by Lucie Arnaz (the couple’s daughter). It is well-known that, outwardly, Lucy and Desi were funny and entertaining. This film gives a sense of who they were as people; what they were and thinking and feeling behind the façade of public life in a lovely, warm, and truthful manner. The film embraces the humanness of the Lucy and Desi relationship.
“There’s a lot to explore in these two people. They are so complicated and gifted and passionate, tempestuous, argumentative, irritable, brilliant, funny…There’s so many ways to look at them. The divorce, the alcoholism, the picnics…what a ride,” Lucie Arnaz reminisces of her parents.
Through archival family footage and interviews, it is interesting that this documentary sheds light on misinformation and assumptions. For instance, the film reveals that Lucille Ball did not want to be a trailblazer or the first woman to break down barriers for other female comedians in the industry. Most notable are the stories Lucy tells, in great depth, in her own words.
“Listening to my mother tell stories in her own words, really is…finding tapes of her answering those [autobiographical] questions in depth…was invaluable to me,” Lucie Arnaz explains. “Realizing the subject matter that seemed important to her, which were things I would have never assumed would be. Family and raising the children and constantly worried about not doing it right. It never occurred to me that was on her mind.”
The film also explores how ahead of their time the couple was. It was “groundbreaking to have a woman and a Latin man in that time period being gatekeepers and, in the room,” Poehler surmises. During the Q&A after the screening, Poehler explained it was important to include interviews of people who had direct contact with the couple, which included Norman Lear. Lear spoke to how big, and the important role DesiLu Studios played at that time in Hollywood. Bette Midler and Carol Burnett contributed how Lucy provided irreplaceable mentorship to them.
Footage revealed that the relationship of Lucy and Desi improved drastically after their divorce. “They stopped tearing each other apart,” Lucie recalls.
Perhaps the most poignant, and beautiful, moment of the film was the final scene. Their daughter, Lucie, describes the telephone conversation Lucy and Desi had two days prior to his death. Lucy repeated, “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” Desi replied, “I love you too.” That was the last conversation Desi had with anyone other than his daughter that day before he lapsed into a coma and succumbed to cancer on Dec. 2, 1986. Lucie explained that it was especially touching when she realized that their final conversation took place on Nov. 30, their wedding anniversary. It was a moment of unconditional love and forgiveness, which paralleled the arc of every episode of “I Love Lucy.”